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Carrying the Tiger

On the 3rd November, I carried the tiger over the mountain. Carrying the Tiger over the Mountain is the name of a form in the Beijing Short Form Tai Chi, it represents us having to face something we find difficult. We all have personal “tigers”, tasks that seem to great, so big or too difficult to know where to start. Other tigers are those things that just plain scare us, something we know we should do but keep putting off.

For many years now I have been nursing an arthritic hip. Slowly seeing it deteriorate, losing range in motion and increasing in pain. In December 2019 I finally got a referral to an orthopaedic consultant. He looked at my X-ray and asked where my walking stick was. What followed was a conversation where I had to admit I didn’t really use one except for when I was hiking. He couldn’t understand how I was still walking and was even more gobsmacked when I told him I was still teaching Tai Chi. A total hip replacement was the only option left as the hip was bone on bone and had many oesteophytes growing on it. The Tiger was coming in close!

Then Covid hit and elective surgery was postponed indefinitely. After the first lockdown ended I spoke with my consultant on the phone. I was still on the list for surgery but there was no timescale for when it was like to happen as the Covid Pandemic had hit the NHS and although things were looking better there was now a massive backlog. I was told to prepare for no news until the new year and that potentially the op would go ahead in March or April 2021 at the earliest.

A call out of the blue in October gave me a date of 3rd November and I had to prepare Covid style for surgery with a two week isolation period.

Everything came at the right time and I was able to finish up my Tai Chi Classes and pause again.

Carrying the Tiger in Tai Chi represents being able to overcome something difficult in your life, mental emotional or physical. A new hip would certainly fit all of those categories. Once again the tiger had come in close and was now in plain sight. Throughout my preparations I was mindful of a phrase I often use "What you are not changiing you are choosing". The tiger was a torment, I had to get to grips with it to carry it over the mountain successfully. Continuing without surgery wasn't an option as mobility was now an issue, walking made me ache, even Tai Chi was proving more and more difficult. My balance was being affected by the lack of muscle strength in the affected leg and I was having problems with some of the simplest of moves that form part of the standard warm up.

On Line Zoom Tai Chi - created to run in six week blocks came to an end right on time to have surgery. It wasn't lost on me that the classes ended at "carrying the tiger over the mountain". There I was coaching people through the complex form, all the while being aware that this was preparing me to face my own tiger and carry it over the mountain.

At seven weeks post op I am truly realising how big the mountain is and how far I have to carry this tiger. I was first in theatre on 3rd November and woke on the ward around 1:00pm. The first thing I noticed was I was laying flat with no pain. When moving the leg at all, it felt like I had a lead weight in my leg. Getting out of bed was like climbing a mountain - incredibly hard work. Using a walking frame to get to my bathroom 10 steps away was a marathon. I was well prepared as I'd joined some information and support groups beforehand, but I still felt unprepared.

The following day Physio and assessment of my ability to navigate stairs declared me fit enough to go home. Once again the tiger was there facing another mountain, as I had to carry him all the way to the car and then sit in the car for the 40 minute journey home, aware if the wound on my hip that could feel all the gravel and bumps of the road and all the gear changes and turns.

At home the tiger was my constant companion, hospital corridors are wide and smooth making them easy to navigate, hme suddenly seemd small and complex and the stairs stretched on to eternity like my own personal Everest. Every single movement required so much thought, it was like constantly having my brain in "tai chi" mode - the form however seemed a million miles away.

Two crutches became one within a few days, medication reduced to almost zero as I was aware there was only surgery site pain not bone-on-bone pain. My first walk round the block (on two crutches) was completed purely because I was bloody stubborn that once the thought was there it had to be done. Half a mile round the block wore me out as much as 22 miles in one day when walking Hadrians Wall two years earlier. Another mountain I'd carried this tiger over.

This tiger has bought me so many mountains and as they were all part of the form of my life I had to complete each one - putting my own socks on, carrying mugs of tea up and down stairs, cutting toenails, tying shoelaces, walking further each day, doing physio exercises, strengthening leg muscles, streching leg muscles. The list goes on!

At seven weeks I am walking indoors without any assistance, although I still limp. The last two days have seen me walk 4 miles or more,

still with one crutch. I can stand with the weight in either side, although the left side is weaker. I have all the movement I had before and some more - all pain free. Finally I can do Tai Chi again! I'm aware that there are still mountains, walking without any aids outdoors, not limping at all, acheiving 10,000 steps a day, currently at about 8000 most days.

The purpose of me telling this story? Lao Tzu author of the Tao Te Ching said " The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step". Carrying the Tiger over the Mountain has taken on a new definition for me. I have always understood the story behind this move in the form and how it relates to overcoming something huge.

Today I realise that this quote one of my favourites from the Tao Te Ching is all about carrying the tiger over the mountain. That this journey back to health for me is a journey of 1000 miles and each step along the way is an individual tiger that I need to face and conquer.

It's a lesson in how to face something enormous - if you have a tiger that you need to carry over the mountain, it can be done one step at a time. Don't be bowled over by the size of the task, look at the first step, and then the next, and then the next....

My own personal tiger is still being carried but I have learned to lean in and embrace him.

Sufi Sarah ❤


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